SCHOOL BAKERY AND CAFE (70 Fraser, at Liberty, 416-588-0005) Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Average main $10. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 7 pm; brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
After a long and checkered career helming the kitchens of some of the city's most cutting-edge cantinas - among them Xacutti, Monsoon and, er, the Rivoli - Brad Moore has hung up his toque and gone back to school.
No, the charismatic chef hasn't signed up for a course in remedial flambé at George Brown. Instead, Moore's launched an all-day bakery-slash-café in booming Liberty Village. He calls it School.
You might remember Moore from Eleven, that unfortunate resto kitty-corner from the St. Lawrence Market that had the ignominy of going under three times during its short six-month run last year. Since then, he's kept a low profile doing catering gigs, then quietly opened School in the former Warehouse Grill last November.
The room's a hoot. Surrounded by a 140-seat cobbled patio that's sure to be a mob scene all summer long, the bright, airy space cleverly plays up the academic theme of the resto's name. Chalkboards abound, menus come on clipboards, and a wall of clocks have all stopped at 3:30. Vintage cartoons are projected on another. Sadly, none of the staff are decked out à la Britney as Catholic schoolgirls.
Seated in a full house this Friday noon, we're soon tucking into a trio of exceptional soups. Butternut squash is an autumnal purée tweaked with cinnamon and apple. Potato and watercress is a creamy ambrosia tasting of blue cheese and smoky bacon, and a dense corn chowder arrives topped with a terrific cornbread fritter (all $3 small/$5 large).
Equally fab cheddar biscuits become the McMuffins of dreams when piled with runny fried eggs, peppery Jack and back bacon ($7). Moore's pink-centred organic burger dressed with lettuce, tomato, bacon, Gruyère and lemony guacamole ($12) puts Ronald McDonald to shame. It's accompanied by real-deal spuds that whoever's responsible for the Lakeview's frozen "frites" might want to check out. Better yet, order them on their own ($3/$6) and smother them nacho-style with steamin' red bean 'n' sausage chili smeared with sour cream.
No cafeteria slop, macaroni and cheese (both $9) comes correctly layered with molten cheddar, a green salad strewn with sun-dried tomato and chickpeas tossed in a peppery lemon vinaigrette on the side. Moore's updated take on Southern fried chicken with biscuits and gravy ($12) deserves to be head of the class, though his Indo-inspired curried chicken pot pie ($13) paired with a super carrot 'n' pumpkin seed slaw ($2/$7) comes a close second.
Siphoning off the last of our rhubarb sodas ($2.50 each), we finish with a hefty slice of root-beer-laced chocolate fudge cake ($4) and three forks.
Back for brunch Sunday, we kick-start the day with bracing cups of Illy coffee ($2.20) and a selection of baked goods. The scones served at Xacutti and Eleven were the highlight of the meal, and School's are no exception. Available in versions thick with lemon threads or maple syrup, they're rivalled only by School's cardamom biscuits (all $2).
Disappointed that the chicken curry waffles are off today, I go with Gooey Four Cheese Soufflé ($9 with salad) in their place. More omelette than fluffy retro confection, it's still an impressive dish, especially when plated in a cast-iron skillet alongside pepper biscuits and a mess o' sweet potato home fries.
Poor ol' eggs Benedict ($10) also gets a twist, the usual mouldy English muffins replaced with cheddar chive biscuits, the ordinarily prefab hollandaise spiked with chilies.
And though School won't be offering dinner service until late in May, it will be holding Detention from 3:30 to 7 pm every weekday beginning March 11. Expect the Discovery Channel on TV, discount drinks and nibbly things.
School uniforms optional.